Thursday, January 15, 2009

La Main de Moscou?

Back in the good old days of Eurocommunism, the spokesmen for the right used to drop dark hints about la main de Moscou and the hold that it had on les Socialo-Communistes and their Programme Commun. Now comes word that the son of a Russian oligarch is about to take control of France Soir. I guess Moscow has a right hand as well as a left. It's enough to make you long for Hersant and Dassault.

An Untimely Article

Sylvester Eijffinger argues that Europe's inflation risk is much higher than its deflation risk and that the ECB should therefore postpone further interest-rate cuts. The ECB evidently thinks otherwise: it cut its rate to 2 percent today (Trichet statement here). It was announced yesterday that the consumer price index in France declined for the fourth consecutive month (this is headline and not core inflation and is thus influenced by the sharp drop in energy prices, but still ...).

Quality of French Medical Care Questioned

How good is French health care? Anecdotal reports of major medical errors have been widely publicized of late, but do these reflect a decline of standards? The Institut Montaigne has published a new report by Denise Silber, who claims to have applied quantitative measurement techniques to medical outcomes and found serious deficiencies in the French system. The report is available here.


As Hortefeux moves on to greener pastures, Patrick Weil looks back at his record as minister of immigration and finds his figures suspect. And Le Monde reminds us that Sarko has been in charge of immigration policy for six years. Whatever happened to those ministerial audits that were supposed to measure performance and ensure that ministers did not inflate their achievements?


As expected, Brice Hortefeux has become minister of labor, replacing Xavier Bertrand, who becomes head of the UMP. Ex-Socialist Eric Besson takes over at Immigration and National Identity--I will omit comment on the ironies. The surprise: Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet takes over Besson's job, and it seems that the appointment of a souverainiste as digital czar, rumors of which I mentioned yesterday, did not happen: NKM conserves that portion of Besson's portfolio. Christine Boutin is minister of housing but no longer of cities.

In short, all's quiet on the western front, and the ship of state sails calmly on as if everything were going as planned.

Dada Lives

This is unbelievable. I'm speechless, but others aren't (see here and here).

No one has commented, however, on the representation of France as a crude sign reading "Grève!" This is an injustice! The frequency of strikes in France is way down. No longer are these "the contentious French" immortalized by Charles Tilly.

Of course it would have been hard to prove that at the Gare Saint-Lazare the other day. As everyone knows, this major Paris railway station, which handles 500,000 travelers a day, was shut down by a wildcat strike after an assault on a conductor. To ensure the safety of the public, the SNCF ordered a complete shutdown of the station. Sarkozy insisted on an apology from the state-owned railroad, whose president had anticipated him by hotfooting it down to the station platform at six in the morning to offer his personal amende honorable to harried commuters. The CGT blamed it all on the more militant SUD-Rail union, which it accused of "exploiting" the assault incident to press demands that had been simmering for some time, and which received partial satisfaction in the wake of the turmoil. SUD-Rail claimed a victory for the working class. The public was not amused, and, as usual, the national TV network served up any number of men and women in the street who denounced the cosseted public-sector workers who "enjoy privileges we don't have yet take their grievances out on us." This is rich, when you know that the person behind the camera is also a cosseted public-sector worker, but it keeps the president's ire directed at the SNCF rather than France Télévisions. And so it goes. Maybe the French are still contentious, even if they aren't as likely to go out on strike as poetic license would have it.

One thing is clear. The "minimum service" law, one of the vaunted achievements of Sarko's Hundred Days, isn't working as intended. The "social dialogue" at the SNCF is no less sour than it used to be, and when the lads are in the mood to strike, no obligation of préavis is going to stop them. What's more, the walkout was merely the culmination of a series of 59-minute strikes over the previous month. Why 59 minutes? Because SNCF work rules specify that unauthorized absences of an hour or more result in loss of a full day's pay, but the price of a 59-minute coffee break is much more affordable. The railroad president now wants this rule changed. Will Sarko oblige, or will he sack the boss instead?